A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of an individual to develop a particular disease. For male breast cancer, different risk factors are involved. These are age, family history, mutation of genes, exposure to radiation and estrogen, liver disease and obesity. These male breast cancer risk factors are briefly discussed in this article.
Male Breast Cancer Risk Factor: Age
Male breast cancer is usually diagnosed on men between the ages 60 to 70. Men with prostate cancer are also within that age range. There are few possible explanations why breast cancer is commonly diagnosed in older men. It may be hormonal imbalance since the efficiency of the glands to produce hormones decreases as a person ages. Hormones are important in maintaining homeostasis in the body so any abnormality in hormone production (either gradual increase or decrease) can cause negative effects in the health of an individual.
It may also be possible that the high level of free radicals in the cells of old males causes the uncontrollable division of their breast cells. Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that can destroy the DNA – the genetic material that tells the whole cell when and how often to divide. If the DNA is destroyed by free radicals (e.g. singlet oxygen), the cell may divide in unregulated manner until tumors or solid masses of cells are formed. Free radicals are produced in the normal metabolism of cells. They can be neutralized by anti-oxidants provided by the food we eat. Individuals who don’t have a diet rich in anti-oxidants have higher risks of developing breast cancer. Note that free radicals accumulate in the body if they are not removed by anti-oxidants.
Family History of Breast Cancer: A Risk Factor of Male Breast Cancer
A male with a family history of breast cancer has a higher risk of developing breast cancer than a male who has none. In fact, one in five persons with breast cancer has a relative with the disease. This is explained by genetics wherein the abnormal genes (e.g. gene that causes breast cancer) are transferred from one generation to the next. If you receive that particular gene from your parents, you have the risk of developing breast cancer but it is not necessary that you will acquire the disease. Other factors like diet and lifestyle are needed for these genes to be expressed. Take note also that even if you have relatives with breast cancer, it does not necessarily mean that you have the genes for breast cancer. Inheritance of a particular gene is chiefly governed by chance.
Male Breast Cancer Risk Factor: Gene Mutation
We humans have genes that control the division of cells. Rapid and uncontrollable cell division causes the formation of tumors that are either benign or malignant. Special proteins are therefore needed to prevent the formation of tumors. These proteins are translated from anti-tumor genes which include BRCA1, BRCA2, and p53 genes. Mutation of these genes makes the translated protein non functional to prevent normal cells from dividing abnormally.
A male with mutation in his BRCA2 gene is 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than a male with a normal form of the gene. The p53 gene is a tumor suppressor gene. From the name itself we can say that the gene is responsible in suppressing the growth or even formation of tumors. Again, mutation of this gene can cause the formation of breast tumors in men.
Mutated form of the above-mentioned genes can be transferred from parents to offspring. This is the reason why breast cancer runs in families.
Scientists are already studying the factors that contribute to the mutation of BRCA1, BRCA2, and p53 genes.
Male Breast Cancer Risk Factor: Exposure to Radiation
Radiation is the energy emitted by radioactive materials such as uranium and plutonium. The force of radiation cannot be felt by human body but its effects to the cells can be cancerous. Ionizing radiation is the form of radiation that pulls out ions in materials that it passes on. Ionization of the DNA makes it abnormal that it could no longer perform its important roles (e.g. manage the overall metabolic activities of the cell). Abnormalities of the DNA could lead to uncontrollable cell division until tumors are formed.
The chance of a male to develop breast cancer depends on the length of exposure time. The longer the exposure time, the higher is the risk.
Scientists advise people to stay away from radioactive materials or from places that exhibit radioactivity.
Male Breast Cancer Prevention: Exposure to Estrogen
Studies show that the high amount of estrogen in the female body enhances abnormal cell division in the breast. This is true in men. Males that are exposed to estrogen have risks of developing breast cancer. These males include the transsexuals who drink estrogen drugs to enhance the enlargement of their breasts.
Administration of estrogen, however, is highly important in males that have prostate cancer even if the risk of breast cancer is there. Estrogen is currently used as hormone therapy on males with prostate cancer.
Greater activity of estrogen happens when liver disease reduces the activity of androgen hormones like testosterone and androsterone. So males with cirrhosis (a liver disease) have higher risks of developing breast cancer than males with healthy livers.
Obesity is also connected to breast cancer. Obese people have higher number of fat cells in their body than normal people. Fat cells transform androgen hormones to estrogen. A higher level of estrogen in the male body increases his chance of developing breast cancer.